“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace toward men of God’s good pleasure.”
Sweeter words can hardly be imagined.
Peace on earth!
Yes, without question we will one day pass through the portals of perfect peace. Our text, however, does not have that phase of peace as its primary emphasis, rather it unfolds before our eyes the peace that we enjoy right now, while we are still upon this earth.
No wonder God commissioned angels to bring us this amazing message. Surely, such a gospel would never arise in the hearts of men. I know men are able to envision a world that is free from the pangs of war, and for that goal they are willing to work long hours and expend great efforts, but what folly! You understand that our text does not refer to some future utopia in which it might be possible to have peace on earth. The glorious gospel sung from angels’ lips is for the present. On that first Christmas night, because Christ Jesus had come into the world, there was peace. There was peace all during the past 1964 years, there is this peace now.
On earth peace: this is a present reality.
It doesn’t look that way; hence God sent angels to earth to lead His church in singing it. How necessary it is for us to bow before the Word and take the cue for our music from the Spirit who alone can provide it.
This is a song of faith.
Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
We must be very careful that we do not become enchanted by the babe of this world that would make this song a basis for world peace among the nations.
I say we must be careful, because our flesh would like just that. We like to imagine that the day is coming when bloodshed shall be removed from this earth. I assure you, however, that that kind of peace is never promised to the church and will never come.
Are you going to blend your voice with the angels this Christmas? Then you will have to choke off the impulse of the flesh and by grace sing a peculiar song as a stranger in the earth. By grace, I say, for that is impossible for the flesh.
You felt the heart-pangs of war? You men that handled the guns, manned the boats, and guided the aircraft are only too eager to repress those memories into the deepest recesses of the subconscious and try to forget the whole bloody mess. Destruction of property, wounded soldiers, widowed mothers, orphaned children,—all comprise the aftermath of war; and no mortal creature likes to imagine that there cannot be some way to stop such a display of hatred. We like peace.
We read concerning the attacks upon children of God by wicked men, and we shudder; History proves that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church. Stretched upon the racks, nailed to crosses, burned at the stake, tortured with every conceivable fiendish method,—such is the story of the church militant. For the flesh that is not pleasant; we like peace.
Jesus said, “Think not that I am come to send peace on the earth; I came not to send peace, but a sword.”
We must interpret Scripture with Scripture.
Nowhere in God’s Book do we read that the church will be free from the assaults of the sword. We read, in fact, the very opposite. Surely, there will be a brief span of time prior to the return of our Lord in which the nations will be at peace with one another, “They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” Is. 2:4. According to Rev. 13:4 the question is raised, “who is able to make war with him?” that is, the beast, the symbol of anti-Christ. There will be international peace for the world; but for the church, “And it is given unto him to make war with the saints and to overcome them.” Rev. 13:7. The portion for the church will be the great tribulation when the powers of the nations will no longer be directed against each other, but they will direct them against the witness of the true children of God.
Take warning: the godless sing and quote the words of our text, but they do not understand. Whether it be President Johnson with his “Great Society” or the late Pope John XXIII with his “Pacem in Terris,” the same foreign note is sounded. Some would be Calvinists seem confused on this same score.
The peace of which the angels sing is much deeper! It is the peace of the heart. Peace is the removal of all enmity and hatred and the establishment of loving friendship.
Jehovah is at war! He is the righteous God Who cannot and does not overlook sin. In Him is light, and there is no darkness at all. He is loving to the holy, and filled with hatred against the wicked. That is His righteousness. We know that in ourselves we are in the blackness of sin and guilt. We are conceived and born in sin and by nature children of wrath. We know that. Before the conscience of every child of God who has been influenced by the Breath of God there looms the insurmountable load of the judgment we deserve for our sins.
Now comes the angelic song, “Peace on earth to men of God’s good pleasure.”
God delights in His children. His sovereign pleasure determined that He would glorify His name in gathering unto Himself a family. To realize this pleasure God elected unto Himself a people. He decreed that they alone would be objects of all His favor and love, and He would take them unto Himself in heavenly glory.
These people, however, were in themselves corrupt. As such they could never be the objects of His favor, for God cannot have pleasure in sin. Therefore God elected His people in Christ. God would transfer His enmity which He had against His sinful children to His own Son.
The incarnation was the beginning of this mighty work.
God Himself had conceived in the womb of the virgin this Wonder-child. His name is Immanuel, God with us. The God-man would now grow up into a man and set His face to Jerusalem. You see, we cannot separate Bethlehem from Calvary. He is our Prince of Peaceonly because He is our Captain, given unto us from our Father in order that He might ascend the Hill of Golgotha and there establish our peace with God.
He did just that!
The cross was the battle field.
A terrible struggle took place on that cross. The very thought of the cross drove our Peace-maker to His knees in the garden, where he cried out amidst the bloody sweat, “Father, if it be possible let this cup pass from me; nevertheless not my will but thine be done.” An angel came to strengthen Him. There was only one way to exchange enmity for love; that was the cross. With His eye fixed upon that cross, Jesus gave Himself to His enemies; silently He stood before the perverters of justice; like a lamb upon the altar, He laid His arms upon the wooden beams and bore the pain; Suspended between heaven and earth, despised and rejected of men, Jesus cried out the keynote of the cross, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
It was there that He made peace for us.
He had no sin; it: was ours. He had no guilt; it was yours and mine. When God saw our guilt upon Him, God hid the face of His favor and extinguished the luminaries of heaven and enshrouded the cross in the blackness of His wrath. The mockers were silenced, only His cry could be heard, “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me.” The real anguish of the cross was God’s judgment against our sins which He had transferred to His Only Begotten Son.
Jesus bore it all! Immanuel, the Divine in our human nature, bore the full measure of God’s wrath for our sins. Refusing the stupefying drink offered to Him by His executioners, He consciously, every moment on the cross, cried out, “I love thee” for all our hatred expressed by our sins. When all was completed, He sealed His work with the cry of victory, “It is finished,” and Father took Him out of the grave and welcomed Him home in glory. Our peace with God is sealed in the empty tomb.
In anticipation of this completed work, Jesus had said to His disciples while He was yet in the Upper room, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you; not as the world giveth give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” John 14:27.
The angels sang, “Peace on earth to men of God’s good pleasure.”
Now you understand. That peace is the loving kindness that God bestows upon His people through the cross of Jesus. There is no wrath, no hatred, no enmity of the righteous God upon His people; there is only love. In that knowledge our hearts rest content in God.
We experience that while we are yet on earth.
How often does not our soul cry out when oppressed with the burden of the guilt of our sins. When the keen edge of the Sword of the Spirit cuts open our hearts and with spiritual eyes we look into the black chasms of sin, we tremble and quake. Our lips stammer, “God be merciful to me; the chief of sinners.”
It is then that the penetrating shaft of God’s light illuminates our understanding, gently unfolds before our tear-filled eyes, the hill of Golgotha and points us to Him Who bore the judgment for our sins. He whispers into our ears, “Thy sins are forgiven thee.”
Such peace passeth ail understanding. It is our precious possession now, while we are yet struggling on our way to glory.
It is this peace that quiets the troubled soul of the sick, whether in homes or hospitals; I dare say that at no time in our lives does the blackness of our sins prevail upon our consciousness as when God takes us out of the rushing current of life and forces us to rest awhile. We often know ourselves best on a sickbed. We begin to raise that heart-rending question, Is God punishing me, are these afflictions evidences of His wrath?
Then too, while we are on earth He assures us, “Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” Why? “For whom the Lord loveth, He chasteneth. . . . but if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.” Heb. 12:6-8. That brings peace.
Finally, it is this peace that strengthens us in the midst of the real battle of faith. We expect to be persecuted for Christ’s sake; we know that if the world hated Jesus, they will hate us also; we know that it may be our portion to live in the great tribulation, yet we have peace. He has sworn with an oath, “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.” The God of Jesus promises that. If God be for us, who can be against us? We have peace in the knowledge that our victory is secure in our Captain, Jesus Christ.
On earth ye shall have tribulation.
On earth peace!
You see now, there is no conflict.
Let us follow the example of the angels and conclude, “Glory to God in the highest.” He is the Exalted One, the Mighty of the mightiest, the Lord of lords and the King of kings.
This peace comes to us from Him. Our Peacemaker was from Him.
All the adoration must return to the Giver.
I’m sure that when we enter the portals of perfect peace, we will be able to sing this more emphatically. Then peace will be on the new earth, and no tears will distract us.
On earth peace; glory to God!
May this song be in your heart, always.